A lot of folie de grandeur, on the part of both hero and director, and very little basic filmmaking skill—the skill necessary to make the grandeur look at all grand. Hauling that riverboat over a mountain looks like no big deal in Werner Herzog's feeble, spatially vague mise-en-scene, and since that stunt is this 1982 film's reason for being, there's really nothing left. And why make such a moral issue out of hauling a real boat over a real mountain when Herzog has no compunction about using models in the rapids-shooting scene? Claudia Cardinale provides a much-needed center of human warmth and charm, but the film around her is cold and sketchy—an epic without scale or sweep. The film may have been intended as an ironic comment on the absurdity of human ambition, but it's an irony that explodes in Herzog's face. Klaus Kinski, Herzog's moonstruck alter ego, plays the visionary protagonist—a music lover who wants to bring opera to the jungles of Peru. In German with subtitles.
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